Faithful

Do you remember when grown-ups would ask you as a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It often changed for me from year to year. I wanted to be a dancer, a teacher, a garbage collector (what?), a singer, a mommy, and a writer. I often look at Joy and wonder what the future holds for her. We have already determined that she will be a preacher (I know, she’s a girl and we’re Baptists), a dancer, a singer, a chef, and the President of the United States. And she’ll be awesome (and cute) at all of them.

I didn’t follow all those dreams and went in some very different directions at times. I’ve had stints working in retail and the medical field and enjoyed a year as a floral clerk. I hung onto writing and teaching as my calling and I’m exploring the idea of counseling. but I’ve worked in religious administration for most of my career. It’s been sweet and a perfect fit for my skills.

But I’ve discovered something else I want to be. Faithful. Just faithful. Not only in a career or ministry but faithful in my life. I want to love God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength (Mark 12:30). I want to find hope and Joy and peace in Christ (Rom 15:13) and walk in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16-18). I want an undivided, unrelenting, unquenchable zeal for my Creator (Rom 12:11). I want to pursue Him with reckless abandon (Phil 3:12-14). Then I want to rest in Him (Mark 6:31). I want Christ to be my life (Col 3:4). I want my life to be all about Christ (Col 1:10-12).

One day I will stand before the Lord. I don’t want Him to compliment me on the pretty bouquets I created or the nice bulletins I produced or how well I managed the faculty files and textbooks at the college.  I don’t Him to tell me how much He enjoyed my writing and that I was a solid teacher of His Word. As much as I love her, I don’t even want Him to tell me I was a good grandmother to Joy. I only want to hear one thing: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21). That will be enough. That will be everything.

God is With You

The Lord God told Abram (Abraham) “I will bless you . . .” (Gen 12:2) and at first glance, we see that God made Abram a wealthy man with “livestock, silver, and gold” (13:2).  So much so that he and his nephew, Lot, had to part ways because the land could not support them both (v. 6). That’s a lot of blessing! But the real blessing of God is found a couple of pages over. “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1). The greatest blessing God gave Abram was Himself.  The more I read the Bible the more I’ve discovered that the blessing God desires most to give us is the same.

To Moses, who questioned his ability to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God said “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12). To Joshua, as he prepared to lead them into the Promised Land, “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God goes with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). To Gideon, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). To the disciples Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). And when Paul was in prison, the Lord Jesus Himself “stood near” him and gave him strength (Acts 23:11). And Jesus promised that He was returning to heaven to “prepare a place for you . . . that you may always be where I am” (John 14:2-3). Forever.

But God’s presence is not just relegated to the past. Jesus promised His own Spirit would dwell in His followers so that His presence would never leave them (John 14:16-17).  That means when you accept Christ, you are given His Spirit at that very moment. The same God that was with Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, the disciples, and Paul is with you. In you. What you and I need now is an awareness of His presence. That’s my prayer for us both today, that we would be acutely sensitive to the Spirit, keenly attuned to His voice and His leading. The most comforting words in Scripture are not, “it’s all gonna be okay,” but “I am with you.”

Stuff I’ve Learned in My Life

I’ll admit, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. The running joke in my family was, “Dorcas is so dumb that . . .” and then add a punchline. I believed it for a long time. I’m sixty+ now, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Like, don’t try to sneak off at midnight on a bike with a leaky tire. Don’t get so caught up in an audiobook that you run a red light and T-bone another car. Don’t abuse credit cards. Don’t let your mom brush your hair when’s she mad. Don’t eat junk for forty years and think it won’t come back to haunt you. I’ve learned that true friends are the second rarest gems on earth. Grandchildren are the first. I’ve learned that wisdom usually comes with scars and kindness can change almost every situation. I’ve learned that being fulfilled is more valuable than a fat paycheck. Those are lessons I learned just living my life.

But the Bible has been my greatest teacher. Through Abraham, I learned to trust God even when His promises look impossible (Gen 15). I learned from Joshua’s story that God will never leave me nor forsake me (Josh 1:5) From Gideon – God sees me as the person He created me to be, not the loser I think I am (Jud 6). I found my calling in Ezra: to study the Word, obey the Word, and teach the Word (Ezra 7:10). I’ve learned to not judge others from Job, to confess my sins from David, and Daniel taught me to stand firm in my faith despite the whims of the world. Jonah taught me that I can’t run from God, and Zechariah told me where to look for the return of Christ (Zech 14:4).

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John told me about my greatest love, Jesus, who died to save me. Acts taught me the power of the Holy Spirit and Dorcas taught me the power of helping others (Acts 9). Peter taught me about forgiveness, Paul taught me about righteousness, and Mary taught me about humility. Revelation taught me that God wins.

Of all the things I’ve learned the one I most want to leave you with is this: God loves you. Yes, you. He loves you with an everlasting, never-failing, unshakable,  eternal, perfect, holy love. That, Beloved, is the most important thing you need to know.

The Measure of My Faith

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent”  (John 17:3).

One morning not too long ago I had the urge to grab a tape measure and measure the distance between my head and my heart. 22 inches.

“What does that mean Lord?” I asked.

“That is the difference between what you know in your head and what you know in your heart.”

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies and I am working on my Master’s. Thus far I have seven years of studying and pounding out acres of papers, reports, and tests.  I read scores of pages every week in my textbooks and have taken numerous studies of books of the Bible. I’ve dug into words and context and history and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve learned about the Bible, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, creation, Israel, the Church, prophecy, doctrine, apologetics, theology, eschatology, ecclesiology, Christology, – and yes, even algebra.  None of that makes me an expert – far from it. In fact, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Still, all that knowledge does me no good if it just sits in my head and never reaches my heart.  It’s like a seed lying dormant on the surface rather than under the ground where it can put down roots and grow strong.

I used to think it was enough to learn all I could know about God, but I’m finding that when it’s all head-knowledge, it doesn’t move my heart – and my heart is what God is after. My heart is where change happens. So how do I make all this knowledge transition from my head to my heart?  Honestly, that’s a work of the Holy Spirit.  But I do have some responsibilities, such as coming to study the Bible with an attitude of humility and inviting the Spirit to teach me, then meditating on what He has revealed.  Oh, and then living it out. It’s the practical application of the Scripture that makes it take root in my heart.

Twenty-two inches isn’t much on a tape measure, but it is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. I’m not satisfied with a head full of knowledge anymore.  I want to know God with all my heart. How about you, Beloved?

Tangled Prayers

There have been times in my life – even recently – when I was overwhelmed with pain and confusion and frustration. My heart was broken and when I tried to pray my mind was awhirl with a thousand thoughts going this way and that. It was like a hundred different voices all speaking at once in my head. I couldn’t shut them up long enough to get a word in edgewise. I know you’ve been there too. I’ve read your posts and we’ve had some deep conversations. When chaos surrounds us it affects our ability to think and to pray.

But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t hearing our prayers. Listen to Paul’s words: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27)

This verse promises that the Holy Spirit is praying for us when we cannot pray for ourselves. The Greek word for “groans” finds its root in the word stenos – which means “to narrow.” The image in this passage is of the Holy Spirit sorting through the jumble of thoughts and feelings to pull out the thin, narrow strand of truth from our hearts. From that small filament, He weaves a tapestry of prayer to present to the Father. All you and I need to do is pour it all out and let the Spirit, who knows both our hearts and God’s will, sift out the prayer our lips can’t express.

Beloved, you don’t have to filter your heart when you come to God in prayer. You don’t have to have your thoughts and feelings organized – you don’t even have to know what you should pray for. That is why Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit. Let Him do the sorting and sifting – He’ll find the golden thread of your heart’s prayer and carry it to the Father.

Perfect Balance

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I read it first on a Bible cover, It was embroidered with red thread on a quilted grey paisley print. “One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong and that you, O Lord are loving” (Psalm 62:11-12). For some reason, I couldn’t stop staring at it.  I’m sure the woman who owned the Bible was a little concerned that I might try to sneak off with it. The verse captured me – and like the Holy Spirit often does, He asked, “What does that mean?” I quickly jotted down the reference and turned my attention back to the teacher.

When I got home I went to my concordance and started to dig. Guess what? Strong means strong and loving means loving. Well, that was . . . enlightening. But then the Spirit said, “Not the individual words, the whole verse – what does it say about God?” He is strong. He is loving. “Don’t separate the two words. What do they mean together?” God is strong and loving. And then I understood.

If God were just strong, we would fear for our lives. His power would overwhelm us and He might use His strength against us. If He were just loving, He could do little to help us. He would look on us with pity and sorrow for our sufferings, but could only pat us on the shoulder and wish us well. But He is strong and He is loving. His strength is perfectly balanced by His affection. His love is equally matched by the power to rescue. His love allows Him to see our needs and respond with compassion, mercy, and grace. His power enables Him to work mightily on our behalf, parting seas, holding back the sun, bringing down strong walls, and overwhelming enemies. And rising from the grave.

There have been many powerful men throughout history who had no compassion and left a wake of pain and destruction behind them. By the same token, many benevolent hearts offer empathy, but cannot render any real aid. God is sufficiently both; He cares and He moves. This, Beloved, is the God who listens to your heart’s cry and responds with power. He sees you. He hears you. He loves you. And He is coming to your rescue.

Hebrews: The Better Covenant

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“I promise.” There was a time when those two words meant something. When you could count on the person and the pledge. A couple stood before “God and these witnesses” to declare their life-long love. A politician made campaign promises that ensured his election, and his supporters could depend on the word of their elected official. A prospective employee agreed to a salary and benefits in exchange for faithful, dependable, service. All of these are the pattern of a covenant and covenant is the foundation of the relationship between God and man.

A covenant involves three people (or people groups) – two parties who wish to make an agreement of mutual benefit and a mediator to bring them to agreeable terms.  The covenant would stand as long as both parties lived and fulfilled their responsibilities. God made a covenant with Adam and Eve, first to allow them to rule over the earth (Gen 1:26), and then, after their sin, to bring a redeemer to crush their enemy (Gen 3:15). He made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen 9:15). His covenant with Abraham was for his descendants to possess the land of Canaan (Gen 17:8). He made a covenant with Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai which involved a host of laws. He also made a covenant with David that his descendants would always sit on the throne of Israel, including One who would rule over an eternal kingdom ( 2 Sam 7:1-16). All of those covenants except one were dependant solely on the faithfulness of God. The Mosaic covenant demanded obedience from the people for God’s blessings and promised curses for disobedience.

The writer of Hebrews said the old covenant was perfect, but “God found fault with the people,” (Heb 8:8) because they were unable to maintain obedience. Rather than give up on them, he determined to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (v. 8). It was a covenant of forgiveness (v. 12) and of the Holy Spirit. The writer quoted Jeremiah saying, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time . . . I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people . . . and they will all know me” (v. 10,11).

While Moses was the mediator between God and Israel, Jesus Christ is the mediator between a holy God and sinful humanity – and the covenant was sealed with His blood. This covenant will never become “obsolete” and it will never “disappear” (v. 13) because its foundation is the obedience of Christ, not man.  Beloved, it’s not up to you. It’s up to Him, and He is forever faithful.

Mary’s Treasure

I love Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth because, according to church tradition, it is Mary’s own recollections. Only Mary could recall intimate details about Gabriel’s visit the remarkable announcement: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (vs. 31-32). She remembered her question “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (v. 34), and the angel’s reply about the Holy Spirit’s part in the conception.

She even included the report about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy and her aged cousin’s joyful greeting, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed I the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (vs. 42, 43). And “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (v. 45). She remembered the song she sang: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .”  (vs. 46-55).

Mary was the one who included Caesar Augustus’ decree that sent them to Bethlehem where her Son was born among the beasts of domestic life, bound up in rags, and laid to sleep in the animal’s feed trough.

Mary told about the shepherds who surely reported the angel’s proclamation to the parents. And the angel’s song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (2:14). Mary also remembered when Jesus was presented in the temple according to the law and the old man and woman who spoke powerfully about her son (2:25-38). Mary remembered Jesus when he was twelve years old, being separated from her and Joseph, and how He amazed the Jewish teachers by speaking with wisdom and authority beyond His years (2:41-50). And he amazed His mother by answering her scolding by saying, “Did you know I had to be in my Father’s house? (v. 49). Oh, how I wish Luke had picked her memory for more details of His childhood – clearly He was no ordinary child. Or maybe He was and the details are much the same as your childhood and mine.

Luke said that Mary, “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). I’m so glad she did because we have the most detailed, intimate account of our Savior’s birth and early glimpses of His ministry. Here’s my question for us both: What marvelous things has God done for you? Have you treasured them up in your heart (or written them down in a journal)? When someone (a grandchild, perhaps) asks you about your relationship with Jesus you will be glad you did.

God is Here

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The boy stood looking at the writing on the angry man’s poster: GOD IS NOWHERE. When the man laid down his poster to step into the nearby café, the lad turned the poster over and wrote diligently.  The man came back to his spot on the sidewalk and the boy said, “You had a mistake on your poster, but it fixed it. He picked up the poster to read what the boy had written: GOD IS NOW HERE.

That is the whole point of the Christmas story.  The Bible shows us that God has continually drawn near to man.  In the garden, He had close and personal fellowship with Adam and Eve, walking through the Garden with them in the cool of the evening.  But sin broke that intimate fellowship, and a barrier was placed between God and man.  God commanded the Israelites to make a Tabernacle that He might come and dwell among His people, and He did for hundreds of years until again, the sin of the nation of Israel became so great that God withdrew from the Temple.  The Old Testament records many visitations of God to Abraham, Jacob, Daniel, and others who were devoted to Him.  But these were brief occasions, to impart a message or empower His servant for a specific act.  God desired a deeper communion with man.  And God had a plan.

The angel recalled the prophecy: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him called ‘Immanuel*’ which means ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:23).  Jesus brought God near to us as a tiny baby in Bethlehem, as a man proclaiming the Good News, as the sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and as the risen Lord.  Then He gave us His presence continually in His indwelling Holy Spirit.  Immanuel is with us in storms and darkness and trial and suffering.  He is with us in our times of doubt and fear and loneliness and emptiness.  The joy of Immanuel is knowing that there is no place we can go and no circumstance of life we will face that God is as near as your whispered prayer.  Jesus made Himself one of us that we might be with Him now and for eternity.

Beloved, I pray that the Joy of Immanuel is with you this Advent season.

* Some translations spell this word differently, the NIV uses Immanuel, the KJV uses Emmanuel – either way God is with us.

Boundaries

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We’ve had a gate at the entrance to our living room since Joy became mobile to keep her corralled and safe. It’s also there to keep her contained so that Nana can have some uninterrupted time to study. A couple of weeks ago the gate was removed and there was nothing to stop her from running into my study – which she did constantly. Now, you know, I love her dearly and I will never push her away or shut her out, but sometimes I’ve just got to dig into my books, especially now as I’m coming into the final paper for my graduate class. Last week the gate went back in. And you know what? She’s been a much calmer child. It’s like the gate gives her a measure of comfort and security. Children need boundaries. They actually feel safer when they know where the line is clearly marked for them.  I remember as a little girl standing in an open field saying, “I don’t know how far I can go and that scares me, cause I might go too far and get lost.”

Three things come to mind when I think about boundaries. First is the boundary of self-control, part of the fruit of the Spirit. Self-control is the internal brake that tells us to STOP before we go too far or get in too deep. Solomon said, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Prov. 25:28). I know someone with no self-control and he suffers many harsh consequences because of it.

Then there is the Bible. While the Scriptures are about so much more than rules, it is full of healthy boundaries for our lives. Moses told the Israelites: “They are not just idle words for you, they are your life” (Deut. 32:47). The wise man builds his life on the Word of God.

But the most powerful boundary is the Holy Spirit. Paul said that “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). The Spirit will always lead us to what pleases God and will pull back the reigns when we’re headed in the wrong direction.  The combination of the Word of God and the Spirit of God provides a strong boundary for the child of God.

Joy needed the security the gate provided. You and I need the security of boundaries around our lives. Strong walls lead to peace. Beloved, do you need to invest in some boundaries?